This week marks the first anniversary of Following Ezra’s publication. One of the questions people have been asking a lot lately is, “How’s the book doing?” They inquire in the way you might ask, “How’s your grandmother doing?” or, say, “How’s your wife?”—as if the book has a life of its own, heading out on road trips, occasionally nursing a cold, stopping off at Starbucks on the way to work each day.
The truth is, it does have a life of its own. That’s one thing I’ve learned this year. When I set out to write Following Ezra, one of my purposes was to create the kind of book I wish had been around when Ezra was three or four years old and we were first learning about him and about autism. I wanted to write something that said, “Your life will be different from what you might have expected, but it’ll be okay.”
What I didn’t know was whether the book would find its way to people in that position. One of the most gratifying parts of sending the story out into the world has been hearing from so many mothers and fathers who are just where Shawn and I were a dozen years ago, trying to find their way in the dark. I have met many of them as I’ve traveled around the country to speak about the book.
And then there are the emails. One father emailed me from an airport lounge. His flight home from a business trip had been cancelled, and he had passed most of the time reading Following Ezra. Since his son had been diagnosed with autism at age five, “we have found it quite difficult to feel peace about the path we should take with our son,” he wrote. “Reading about you and your wife’s experience has been so very comforting.”
Another father wrote me from England. His four-year-old son had recently been diagnosed with autism, and he found the book helpful. “Most importantly, I have faith from your attitude and the ways you follow Ezra, learn from him and adapt your behaviour accordingly,” he wrote. “Which is why I feel that coming back to your book will be a help as we navigate our way through our son’s coming years.”
Some responses take me by surprise. Though many readers have told me that Following Ezra is just an extreme version of the challenges every parent faces, that did not deter one young man. “I’m in my mid-20s, not married or anything yet,” he wrote, “but reading the book really makes me realize how much I want to have kids of my own. Thanks for writing it.”
When I hear those things, I can only conclude that the book’s doing pretty well.
Of course, the other question people ask is, “How’s Ezra doing?” The book ends with him at 13 years old, so many readers want to know what he’s been up to since then.
The good news is that Ezra continues to surprise, delight, and challenge us every day (as do his brothers). He’s held onto his primary passions: animals and animation. On Labor Day, we visited the Los Angeles Zoo and he was beyond delighted at the opportunity to pet a hedgehog.
“I’ve never done that before!” he kept saying to the zoo volunteer. “This is the first time I’ve touched that insectivore!”
A few weeks ago, the two of us went to the scary animated movie ParaNorman, and though he spent much of the last half hour with his hands cupped over his ears, he assured me at the end, “I loved that movie, Abba!”
This summer he went to camp, where one of his electives was blogging. Every day he wrote a few sentences about his experiences: swimming in the pool, interviewing the cooking teacher, taking part in color war (wearing his favorite color: red).
At the beginning of each school year, it’s difficult not to recall the preschool year when he was so filled with fears and anxiety that he wouldn’t step into the classroom for the first several days. This year, he bounded for the school bus, smiling all the way. At 3:15, he sent me a text on his cellphone: “I really had a great day, Abba.”
At moments like that, I think of those parents of younger kids, and of all the great moments that lie ahead for them.